Maharaj's six rushes South Africa towards victory

End of innings New Zealand 268 and 171 (Raval 80, Maharaj 6-40) lead South Africa 359 (de Kock 91, Bavuma 89, de Grandhomme 3-52) by 80 runs
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Keshav Maharaj gets a hug from his captain Faf du Plessis after a wicket © Getty Images

South Africa hurtled towards a three-day victory in Wellington as Keshav Maharaj finished with a career-best 6 for 40. New Zealand collapsed after tea, losing their last five wickets for 16 runs in 36 balls, following another struggle for their top order to leave South Africa a target of 81 with 19 overs remaining in the day and the possibility to claim the extra half hour.

Once South Africa built a first-innings advantage of 91 it was always going to be difficult for New Zealand to take anything from the match – they had only twice overhauled bigger deficits – but the manner of their demise was out of character for side that prides itself on resilience. While losing the top three to Morne Morkel’s pace and bounce was understandable, to let the opposition left-arm spinner take six – with many handed to him on a plate – marks this down as one of New Zealand’s poorest batting performances in recent times, even with the qualifier of Ross Taylor’s absence.

Morkel claimed two in his opening spell, including Kane Williamson for his second failure of the match, then returned after lunch to break a small recovery between Raval and Neil Broom. Maharaj’s first spell was a 14-over stint in the afternoon and he removed Henry Nicholls and James Neesham in the space of five deliveries with New Zealand still a run behind.

Raval, who made a gusty career-best 80, stopped the bleeding alongside Wellington recovery specialist BJ Watling until tea but there was to be no miracle this time. Raval had been given three lives when he was finally stumped by Quinton de Kock – who a short while earlier missed a similar chance – which sparked the cave-in of the lower order. While some of New Zealand’s batting was soft, Maharaj’s bowling was beautifully controlled – as his economy rate under two would attest – and he was able to feed off the pressure created by the quicks.

After the brief skirmishes at the start of the day, when Morkel equalled his highest Test score, the contest went up a level as South Africa’s quicks armed themselves with the new ball. Morkel was immediately causing discomfort and Tom Latham’s torment did not last long, though, when he sparred at a length ball and offered a simple catch to gully.

It meant Williamson was again exposed with the ball still very new and his stay was brief when Morkel made one straighten from off stump to graze the outside edge. Kumar Dharmasena did not detect the very thin nick, but this time du Plessis’ call for DRS – which was almost instant – was spot on and they had kept Williamson to a return of just three runs in the Test.

Broom did not have to stew too long on the prospect of a debut pair when he tapped the ball into point for a single. He was then given a thorough working over by an exemplary spell from Vernon Philander who probed and beat his outside edge with waspish movement. A couple of the deliveries were like 130kph legbreaks and survival was the only option. That he achieved, but he couldn’t carry on far beyond the interval. In Morkel’s first over after the break, he edged behind where, in a replay of the first innings, de Kock took a flying catch in front of first slip. This time, though, the catch would have reached Hashim Amla and it took a few moments for team-mates to realise de Kock had grasped it.

Then followed a crazy over of batting against Maharaj (it would not be the first) who had already been donated a few wickets in this series. Firstly Nicholls, who needed treatment for a blow on the hand, under-edged a sweep against a wide delivery into his stumps and then five balls later, Neesham came down the pitch, flicked in the air and the ball was plucked out at midwicket by du Plessis’ latest blinding catch.

For close to two hours Raval and Watling warmed the hearts of the Wellington crowd on a cold day, but there was always the knowledge South Africa had wicket-taking options at hand. Just that Maharaj would not have been top of the list at the start of the series. He tossed a delivery wide to Raval, drew him out of the crease, and this time de Kock – who yesterday spoke about the battering his hands had taken on the tour – completed a swift piece of work.

In his next over, Maharaj produced a delivery he’ll want to frame for the rest of his career, the ball pitching on middle and spinning past Colin de Grandhomme’s outside edge to hit off stump. The rest was inevitable: Tim Southee slogged to long-off, Jeetan Patel fell to a Kagiso Rabada short ball and the helpless Watling heaved into the deep.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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